October 18th, 2011 at 1:50pm
In somewhat surprising news, Daimler announced it’s fired the head of Mercedes-Benz USA, Ernst Lieb. There’s been a lot of drama between Volkswagen and Suzuki lately, and now The Wall Street Journal reports Vee Dub will not sell its 20 percent stake in the Japanese automaker. Toyota is ready to open its latest plant, located in Blue Springs, Mississippi and home to the 2012 Corolla. All that and more, plus guest host Sampson Rollomite Jim Hall of 2953 Analytics shares some of his thoughts on America’s strange relationship with hatchbacks.
Hello again, and welcome to another thrilling installment of Autoline Daily. It’s Tu-Tu-Tu-Tuesday, the 18th of October, 2011. Fall is really in the air here in Michigan . . . it’s cold outside! I’m Sampson Rollomite of . . . HEY! WHO WROTE THIS?!?! Change my lower third . . . NOW! (PAUSE . . . ) That’s better. As you should know, I’m JIM HALL of 2953 Analytics bringing you the latest and greatest from world of cars. Now, let’s get started . . . shall we?
AUF WIEDERSEHEN, HERR LIEB
In somewhat surprising news, Daimler announced it’s fired the head of Mercedes-Benz USA, Ernst Lieb – a genuine nice guy we’ve interviewed on several occasions. According to the Detroit News, the company didn’t say why it made the move, but in the meantime Herbert Werner, who is the CFO and Vice President of Finance, Controlling and InfoTechnologies, will take over his position until further notice. Lieb had been the head of Mercedes-Benz USA since 2006.
MORE VW/SUZUKI DRAMA
Last week we reported Suzuki was demanding that Volkswagen sell its stake in the company after the Japanese automaker accused it of violating their agreement by not sharing technology. Then, VW accused Suzuki of breaching the contract by signing an engine deal with Fiat. Now the Wall Street Journal reports, despite all the drama, VW WILL NOT sell its stake in Suzuki, which sits at almost 20 percent. Sounds like this spat could drag on for quite a while.
DISNEY TO THE RESCUE
Meanwhile, over in California, the Bowtie is turning to the Magic Kingdom for help.
In an attempt to increase its single-digit slice of the largest car market in America, Chevrolet has hired Disney to enhance the customer experience at dealerships throughout the state by training staff at its Orange County theme park.
The Los Angeles Times reports this is the first part of a three-pronged approach to increase Chevy’s statewide market share. The brand is also selling more fuel-efficient cars and has targeted 100 California dealerships for renovation in San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles.
We should note that this is at least the third go-around for Chevy and Disney. Back in the ’90s, the brand’s Total Customer Enthusiasm division also offered a similar type of dealer training from Disney, but at that time it wasn’t focused on just one specific state.
TOYOTA OPENS MISSISSIPPI PLANT (subscription required)
And now for some exciting manufacturing news! Sorry, I lied. No manufacturing news is exciting. But our friends at Ward’s report Toyota is ready to open its latest plant, located in Blue Springs, Mississippi. This is the company’s 14th North American factory and its 10th in the U.S. Toyota will start building 2012 Corollas at the facility very soon. Job one WILL BE sometime this month . . . and they’re running out of days. The plant was originally supposed to be home to the RAV4 and then the Prius, but the company decided to switch to the Corolla in June of last year after the NUMMI shutdown in Fremont, California. Luckily the two cars share the same the same manufacturing architecture so changes to the assembly line were relatively minor. Getting production up and rolling should help ease the company’s inventory issues.
PORSCHE EXPANDS IN LEIPZIG
Also on the manufacturing front, Bloomberg reports Porsche is investing about a half a billion Euros – nearly $700 million – to expand its plant in Leipzig, Germany. It’s adding new body and paint shops to the factory, which is where it builds the Cayenne and the Panamera, its two best-selling models. The company is taking advantage of lower wages in the area, which is part of the former communist East Germany. Jawohl!
Would you believe the graphics on this Chevy Camaro were created using one of these – a Sharpie marker? IT’S TRUE! A professional pin-striper named Chris Dunlop created these detailed decorations. According to LSX TV, 10 of the permanent markers were needed to complete design, which took about 54 hours from start to finish. And don’t worry about it getting smudged; a clear coat was used to protect the artwork from the elements. It’s pretty cool isn’t it?
Coming up next, Americans and hatchbacks. What’s the deal? My stance on the issue right after this . . .
The long-awaited hatchback resurgence. Myth or hoax?
Hatchbacks SHOULD be the car of choice for Americans, yet since the bodystyle’s heyday in the late ‘70s to early ‘80s they have become but a volume footnote in a market dominated by four-door sedans and SUV/crossover things.
Now, whenever a manufacturer introduces a new B- or C-segment car they feel compelled to add the designed-for-Europe hatchback. Now don’t get me wrong, I love hatchbacks and have owned a string of ‘em going back to a mid-‘70s Cosworth Vega. And I’m not too proud to deny it!
The first thing that could be considered a modern hatchback was the 1950 Kaiser Traveler. After Kaiser and Frazer gave up the ghost, America was denied the function of a car that combined the functionality and reconfigurability of a station wagon with the stylish sensibilities of a sedan, until the debut of the 1971 Chevrolet Vega followed in about a year by the Ford Pinto Runabout and then the hatchback version of the Chevy Nova/Pontiac Ventura/Oldsmobile Omega/Buick Apollo in 1973.
A year after that, Volkswagen launched the original Golf in the U.S. as the Rabbit, wonderful car. But it failed in ways theretofore totally unknown to VW owners. Mopar had its own entries in the form of the Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon. A favorite car of the Anti Destination League, that last one!
Do you see the pattern here? Hatchbacks achieved their notoriety as entry-level cars. Vehicles you aspired to get out of. And the onslaught of bottom-feeder hatches continued throughout the 1970s with “cars” like the Datsun F10 and B210 from Nissan, the Chevy Chevette … don’t forget the Scooter version. A rear seat and glovebox door were OPTIONAL on that one. While there were a few up-market hatchbacks from folks like Saab and the ill-fated Merkur Scorpio, none of these sent the competition running to build their own premium hatches. Buyers of premium makes didn’t want to be reminded of machines like the original Mazda GLC, a Suzuki Swift or an Oldsmobile Firenza.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “Jim, those cars are only remembered by old fahrts like you?” and you’d be right. Sort of.
But just as the crap hatchbacks were morphing into high-volume sedans (don’t forget the transformation of the Golf/Rabbit into VW’s North American success Jetta), another batch of three- and five-door scumliners began landing on the shores of America. I’m talking about sheetmetal lash-ups like the 1985 Excel, the Giugiaro-styled hatchback that (nearly) sunk Hyundai in the U.S. Market. Chrysler tried it again with the hatchback-that-posed-as-sedan Dodge Shadow and Plymouth Sundance. Even they knew the functional hatchback would play in Peoria. Please do not forget the astonishingly incompetent Renault Encore that possessed the robustness of a potato chip. And then there was the second-most inappropriately named car in American history – built by Kia and “marketed” by Ford – the Aspire.
While these machines were being sold there were some good hatchback entries like the original front-drive Dodge Colt/Plymouth Champ twins, the Corolla FX-16 and the subsequent GTI variants of the Golf, but generally, if it had a hatch, it resided in the lower extremities of the U.S. market price ladder.
When Ford launched the original Focus in late 1999, the company made a lot of hoopla as to how the ZX3 three-door was rewriting the definition of a hatchback. Stylish, sporty, well-equipped, fun-to-drive said to be the keynotes of the ZX3. But as you can see, when you look around the car parc, the first-generation Focus was really a four-door sedan when it came to sales volume. Now with the new Focus, Ford is touting its five-door bodystyle as establishing the hatchback as a volume proposition for the newest iteration of Ford’s big-selling small car. The company tells us the new Focus will accomplish this by being stylish, sporty well-equipped and fun-to-drive.
What was Einstein’s definition of madness? Oh yes, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
I like the new Focus five-door a lot and I liked the original ZX2 every bit as much. But that and fifty cents will buy you a cup of bad coffee.
We DO have hatchbacks in the States, lots of ‘em. They’re just posing as SUVs and crossovers. Look at a new Kia Sportage or a Toyota Venza just to name two, and tell me I’m wrong.
And that’s a wrap. Again, I’m Sampson Rollomite . . . REALLY? AGAIN?!?! It wasn’t funny the first time and you’re trying it again!?!? What did I just say about Einstein?!?! I’m Jim Hall from 2953 Analytics. Thank you for tuning in and I’ll catch you the next time I’m around these parts. BYE!